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MARCO SCUTARO


MARCO SCUTARO
jblair@globeandmail.com

To know how far Marco Scutaro has come with the Toronto Blue Jays and how much he has impressed manager Cito Gaston, consider this: Even if he were to fall off the face of the earth offensively, Gaston will move him down in the batting order before replacing him with John McDonald. The implicit message to all those who wax poetic about Johnny Mac's defensive prowess: Scutaro's no stiff in that department either. He doesn't need to hit to stay in the lineup.

"I don't really know what to say about this," Scutaro said this week. "I've always just tried to do my job. Sooner or later, you have times when the hitting stops. It happens to everybody, where you feel almost like you've never swung a bat before. What I'm trying to do right now is be consistent with my swing.

"That's what I work on."

Scutaro went into last night's game against the Texas Rangers having reached base at least once in every game this season, hitting in 10 of the 15. He had four home runs among seven extra-base hits. It's been a whirlwind for a guy who was signed before the 2008 season as a bench player, coming off a year in which he was pressed into the starting shortstop's role because of David Eckstein's fall from grace and recorded a career-high 517 at-bats, and an off-season in which he played winter ball and suited up for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.

"Yes," Scutaro said with a soft laugh, "it's true that I don't know what this is like."

Flipping between bench player and regular is more than a matter of nomenclature. As hitting coach Gene Tenace put it, "You're in a completely different zone in terms of preparation" when guaranteed three or four at-bats every game and in the field for nine innings. Told that Scutaro said he was striving for consistency, Tenace agreed that it is a trait that perhaps best describes the player's overall game.

The trait is not just his approach to hitting.

"He's helped by the fact that his swing is pretty low-maintenance," Tenace said. "He's a low-maintenance hitter."

Since Alex Gonzalez appeared in 153 games at shortstop in 2001, no fewer than 21 players have handled the shortstop position for the Blue Jays . Until last year, when McDonald appeared in 67 games, Chris Woodward had played in the most games at the position (241) - and he hadn't been with the team since 2004.

McDonald has appeared in 277 games at the position en route to becoming the Ricciardi era leader. Fifty-two of those were starts last year, one less than Scutaro, whose base salary is $1.1-million (all currency U.S.) and who gets $100,000 bonuses for 400, 425, 450 and 475 plate appearances.

This season, McDonald has been used as a pinch-runner five times and has had three plate appearances.

Gaston installed Scutaro in the leadoff spot at the start of spring training and made clear it was his even while he was with the Venezuelan team at the WBC. No wonder. The 33-year-old is a sublime presence both on and off the field, and while it's a stretch to say he'll be the guy for the next three years until prospect Justin Jackson is ready, he is very much Gaston's man.

"He's got good range, he puts his heart into it every day," Gaston said. "My kind of player."

So don't burn your No. 6 jerseys just yet. Johnny Mac hasn't left town. But you might want to practise the kids' "Marco! Polo!" thing. One side can yell "Marco!" The other can yell "Scutaro!" Consider it one of the sounds of summer - and be comfortable with the notion.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 23, 2009

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